Arista is.. not playing around [5.7]

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What is 'right' and what is 'wrong'?
Morality is a personal ideal, a human construct, or so some would have us believe?
It doesn't make certain people or actions any less irredeemable though.

No matter how you try to spin it, forgiveness just isn't possible ever again in some situations.

Events unfold including but not limited to:
Hannah reliving some rather racy fantasies,
Arista tells a story about a magical princess-turned-queen
(fictional elements being both optional and undisclosed),
while John wears lip-gloss for a very short period of time.


 

“Hello Alice, how’s the water?”

I glared at her from my current position with my eyes resting just above the hot tubs water line.
She can’t see it but my arms are folded forcefully and my nose is pretty pinched from suppressed anger at the same time, the whole look is kind of undermined by the blush that apparently refuses to leave my cheeks sadly, hence my face being mostly hidden by conveniently placed water right about bloody now.

“Mind if I join you Dearheart?”
She didn’t give me a chance to answer before, with a flash of light, her motherly looking cotton dress was replaced by an equally motherly looking, in my opinion, black one-piece swimsuit.

I opened my mouth to protest as she stepped towards me but ended up taking in a mouthful of water by mistake leading to a choked coughing fit that burned my lungs, leaving me sputtering and thrashing in the water until a gentle pair of hands caught me around my waist, depositing me effortlessly into a rather well padded lap.

For a few long seconds I froze in horror as my brain processed what she’d just done.

“I’m not your daughter”
I’m not sure if it was me or her I was trying to reassure there but it was a statement that needed to be made judging by the way her hands came up to play with my too long hair and a little smile drifted across her lips a moment later.

“You are many things Alice and my daughter is most definitely one of them..”

“My name’s not Alice, it’s Hannah, Hannah Cooper.. ya know.. because my Mum’s Susan Cooper and all!”
Try as I might I just couldn’t get the right amount of force behind my words with this almost squeaky sounding childish voice she’s given me and the way she was holding me against her, as if holding me close was the most natural thing in the world for her to be doing at this exact moment, was just messing with my head completely too.

..even Mum never held me like this when I was little..
Shut up brain!
..She’s doing it on purpose..

I don’t know what she has to gain from it all but she’s definitely doing it on purpose!

“Oh my, is that what you think of me Alice? That I’m somehow trying to manipulate you into trusting me by forcing myself into the rather vacant ‘Mother’ position in your life?”
WHAT?!

I didn’t say that!
..out loud..

“You don’t have to say anything Alice. In your mindscape there is nothing you can hide from me.. here, let me show you.”
My eyes winced shut in anticipation as her hand moved down from my hair to apparently cover the top half of my face with one far too large palm.

As she pulled her hand away I was left blinking furiously and the world seemed to shift around me, melting out of all color until all that remained was the hot tub and an endless void full of whizzing, moving objects I couldn’t hope to focus on from the speed they were going.

“Oh silly me, let me slow it down for you.”
She waved her hand in the air and everything slowed to a crawl.

The bottom fell out of my stomach as I stared at image after image slowly revolving around us.
..they’re memories?..
MY memories!

“Consciousness is just a stream of connected thoughts Dearheart and if you know where to look then anyone is an open book within a mindscape.”
..this is impossible..

Well, not impossible but highly-
‘Well, not impossible but highly-’

My thought trailed off as an echo formed up around us at an almost unreasonable volume, the perfect tone and pitch of it making my skin crawl.

That can’t be my-
‘That can’t be my-’
Shit!
‘Shit!’

“Language Alice.. my you certainly do have a rather active inner-monologue going don’t you? Most people only say the odd word or phrase but you speak full sentences to yourself as if you’re holding an actual conversation.”

..bitch..
Yeah, keep your nose out of m-
‘Yeah, keep your nose out of m-’
URG! This is driving me insane! I can-
‘URG! This is driving me insane! I can-’

“I think that’s enough for now. There’s a reason we don’t naturally get to hear our own thought processes after all, it can be rather distracting, can’t it?”
Too bloody right it can!
‘Too bloody right it can!’

“Language Alice.”

“Who do you think you are my Mu.. m?..”
Even before the clichéd response had left my lips I knew it was the wrong thing to say and the pleased smile that spread across her face a moment later only proved it even more.

“Why yes, I do actually.. now back to this inner-monologue of yours, as I was saying, I can hear your every thought and there’s nothing you can hide from me in here Alice so let’s just be honest with each other, shall we?”
My name’s Hannah damn it!

The echo didn’t happen again thankfully but I still flinched in expectation anyway and Arista definitely heard my thought too judging by the frown that flickered across her face for a moment before smoothing out again.

“Now, get comfortable Dearheart because I think it’s about time you saw just how deep the rabbit hole really goes with this horrid mess Mother has dragged you into..”

My mind flashed quickly over to Theodora’s use of that same phrase seemingly so long ago.
..No! She’ll see it!..

Before the actual words Theodora used could fully manifest in my mind I slammed them back as hard as possible by focusing on the much more visceral memory of Storyteller’s arm falling to the floor as one large bloody slab of half-formed ice instead.

“..you really are extraordinary, you know that Alice? No formal training in mental magic’s and after just a brief demonstration of my ability to see your thoughts you’ve already found a rather disgusting work around.. I wonder how long you can maintain it though?”

Just to rub salt into the already open wound that was my sense of self, she jostled me on her knees a little, breaking my concentration JUST enough that I lost track of that one repeating memory and making a knowing smile blossom across her already smirking lips once more.

“I’m going to tell you a story.. it’s a tale of a magical Princess-turned-Queen, a story of prophecies and hubris which would be almost deliciously funny if their results weren’t so painfully real.”
I tried to clamp down on my thoughts again rather than focus on her but yet again all it took was a little twitch of movement from her to break my concentration, apparently that’s the problem with trying to meditate inside your own head sadly.

“Do pay attention Alice, this is important.. now then, our story starts in a time long ago before cities and countries, before modern technology and even before humanity had truly started to consider itself one species as a whole.”

She shifted a little and her chin came to rest on top of my head in a way that HAD to be calculated for effectiveness, just by the sheer ease that it instantly managed to distract me with thoughts of the time John did that exact same maneuver, much to my annoyance.

“Our magical ‘Queen’ was a kind ruler to her people, beloved by servant and family alike.. there was one exception however, her youngest daughter had what is now considered the ‘seers touch’ and from an early age she fought against her mother’s rule, breaking the poor woman’s heart in the process..”
..she can’t-..
Where is she going with this?

“In a last ditch attempt to repair their broken bond the Queen came to her daughters home with a rather asinine request, offering an olive branch between them by showing acceptance of her daughters gifts in the only way she knew how.”
This feel’s familiar?

“The daughter could not see past her own ego, past the often terrible things she saw with her powers and in a fit of malicious anger she would later come to regret she used the full force of her abilities to dump a complete accounting of her near-immortal mother’s future into the unsuspecting woman’s mind.”
..she can’t do thi-..
Oh shit! I know this!

I know this, I saw that happen in my visions!
Arista and her ‘not-Edith’ daughter arguing in a little hut, an argument that ended with Arista laying as a sobbing, broken mess on the dirt floor.

“Those visions, those twisted examples of a potential future broke the once kind Queen. For years afterwards she separated herself from friends and loved ones, focusing all her attentions upon making a new form of magic.. a darker form that the world had never seen before.”

For some reason I suddenly developed a splitting headache out of nowhere.
At my yelp of pain Arista blinked in surprise as if coming out of a trance but quickly moved to comfort me as I rode out the pain as best I could.

“She doesn’t want you to know this Alice. She needs you to be ignorant and to trust her, you need to fight past the pain, to prove that you’re in control.. not her.”
Arista’s words didn’t mean much but they gave me something to focus on at least, slowly as I sunk into my old control techniques the pain eased until it finally died away into a mild annoyance at last.

“Well done Alice, never forget that you are in control of her, not the other way around.. I’m so proud of you..”
To punctuate that confusing statement she hugged me a little tighter and sighed to herself happily as she rocked us slightly from side to side before picking up where she’d left off in her ‘story’.

“As I was saying, this darker form of magic was ‘completely necessary for the good of her family’, according to the distraught Queen. She believed heavily in prophecies you see, despite having no talent for the skillset herself, and in her fear of what could happen if she did not see this prophecy through to conclusion she did something terrible.. she split her core, her very essence was divided almost straight down the middle as she created a new persona for herself..”
..no, she-..
It’s like me and Ellie?

“She knew she didn’t have the heart to do what must be done so as the new-born portion of her mind, a daughter in all but body, came into being she hammered away at it with every compulsion spell she could design.. shaping this other-half of her mind into something entirely new and separate from herself.”
Arista sighed once more and rested her chin on my head almost lovingly.
“We’re a lot alike Alice, you and I, we were both created for a dark purpose by those who mean well.. both harmed by our creator in any number of ways as well.. as I took on the role of my Mothers sword, you too took on a similar role to your poor sister.”

..that’s not-..
I didn’t!

“You went forth into the world and killed mercilessly, did you not?.. so your sister didn’t have to face such evils?.. you took that path by choice, which is something I wish I could say the same about for myself.”

Slowly she leaned her head back against the rim of the hot tub.
Despite the supposed ‘hot’ portion implied by the name ‘hot tub’ I felt distinctly cold as the water flowed around us to accommodate her movements.

“Mother couldn’t handle the things she would have to do for her visions to come true so she made me do it all instead, as time went on I got stronger while she lost ground to her guilt and depression, the final straw was when she let her emotions get the best of her and she tried to stop me from fulfilling my purpose, triggering the compulsions she’d instilled in me with her well-intended attempt at ‘fixing’ her mistake.”

Slowly her hand came up to stroke my hair again in an almost unconscious petting action that made me feel pretty uncomfortable, although she didn’t seem to even realise she was doing it.

“I’m not the bad guy Alice, I’ve never wanted to be the bad guy.. but the compulsions?.. you must know what it’s like by now with all the mental problems you’ve had, the compulsions are unstoppable and while one minute I can be rational and calm, the moment someone tries to change things, stop me or get in my way I just.. it just takes over?..”
Her head dipped down to rest her forehead in my hair and after a long moment I felt her whole body convulse underneath me, quickly followed up by a muted sob that hurt just to hear coming out of her for some reason.

“Mother created me, she made me a monster and despite my best efforts she’s succeeded.. I’m so close now, we’re all so close, if I finish what we started then I’ll finally be free and the future of the human race will be assured!”
She squeezed me a little harder and shook even more violently for a second as another sob broke through her grasp.
“I want you to know that I love you Alice, I love all my children and everything I do is to save them from a future of pain and suffering the likes of which you can’t even imagine. The horror’s I’ve seen.. the horrors I’ve COMMITTED.. if I stop now then it’s all for nothing, do you see that?”
My throat felt tight, too tight to answer at first.

Her words were dangerous, but the intent behind them?.. I can sympathise with her, possibly even understand her motivations if nothing else.
I’ve been in that situation before, I’ve been the monster that has to do bad things to good people just to potentially save even more people in the future.

My last mission, the one I took before Sarah fell into her ‘coma’ and Tor called me..
I destroyed an entire town!
Everyone, women, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents!

They were all being controlled by a powerful demon at the time but that doesn’t change the fact that I wiped an entire population off the map to stop one demon from spreading it’s influence across the globe.. and at the time I didn’t even blink an eye over it because it was just another ‘mission’ to me..

“You’re methods are questionable, your motives worrying and your goals confusing as all hell.. but yes I understand why you would do what you think you have to for everyone’s sake?.. that doesn’t mean tha-”

“I’m glad you understand Alice.. for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
I can’t believe she cut across me!

..what does she mean she’s ‘sorry’?..
Now that you mention it, she’s got a really strange look in her eyes all of a sudden and her body’s gone all stiff.. almost as if she’s falling under some kind of memory spell like Mum used to do or maybe a compul..s..ion..

Oh.. crap..

Before I could even get another word off the world around us started contorting and shifting.
The hot tub was gone, I was wearing the overly fussy dress again and Arista held me to herself as if I weighed nothing at all while the familiar endless white walls of my mindscape came back into focus around us.

Without a word, thick dark metal bars came slamming down from the sky and with an almost negligent toss Arista threw me inside what was effectively a huge cage bisecting my mindscape as far as the eye could see.

I rolled to a stop and staggered to my feet only to stare on in horror as the other side of the bars became populated with worrying speed, first Ellie who was now wearing a strange looking floor-length hooded robe and a dark malicious smirk, but more and more incarnations formed up along the bar’s as time went on, all with that same malicious glee present in their eyes.

“Every plan has its casualties Alice. So does mine.”
Arista stared at me through the bars, her eyes cold and calculating in a way that I wouldn’t have believed possible having seen only her ‘motherly’ form, until now.
“All I needed was time to get settled in, time and a distraction to keep you occupied while I cemented my hold on this wonderful body of ours.. which you so easily gave me..”

..shit..
Double shit! She tricked me?!

Was any of that even real or was she just playing me with some sob story the whole time while she worked her magic to take over completely in the background?

“We have a bright future ahead of us Alice and you are the key to it all. Mother has banked all of her efforts on you, she never was good at contingency planning.. it’s going to be so delicious turning her own weapon against her.”
..NO!..

“I really must dash, I’ve got so many things to do, items and people to prepare before the big event. Don’t worry Dearheart I’ll be back.. some things I want you to see, others I NEED you to see.”
Her smirk turned cold as she stared down at me.
All around her more and more incarnations were appearing, spreading themselves out against the bars to stare at me with that horrible mix of anger and vindication on their faces.
“Play nice with your sisters now Alice, I’ll be back for you eventually. Ta-ta!”

With that she faded out of my mindscape leaving me facing a wall of angry incarnations.
Front and center, with that twisted smug look on her face was Ellie.

“Took you long enough, I thought you’d crack far sooner than that Alice.. get her girls!”

They couldn’t reach me through the bars obviously but, against everything I knew about mindscapes as a whole, when they pulled their hands back almost as one I was treated to a sudden infusion of bright glowing colors as they powered up spells which should be impossible to cast in here and launched them at me!

For a few frantic minutes I dodged backwards successfully but then a lightning spell clipped my foot and my body locked up just long enough for seemingly thousands of spells to come crashing down upon me all at once.

The pain was indescribable, it felt like it only lasted for a second yet also turned into a horribe drawn out process as spell after spell crashing against my psyche leaving me no way to protect myself from the jeering crowd of incarnations in front of me, all at the same time.

I’m honestly not sure how long it really lasted.. a second? an hour? a day?.. maybe even weeks from the feel of it all!

Eventually I passed out as the feeling of my very ESSENCE being assaulted on all sides, torn apart repeatedly by a constant stream of violent elemental spells, only to mend and start over again until finally someone went too far and I really did pass out at long last.

The world disappearing into a numb darkness that at that point I craved SO much!

======

“Oh my, they really didn’t waste any time now, did they?”

Despite knowing what had happened again and having no ability to control my body in the slightest, I still gave a mental wince as the phantom pains left over from all the spell damage I just ‘took’ lingered on in my head around me.

The bright sunlight shining in ‘our’ eyes didn’t help either my headache or my sense of time considering the last thing I remember clearly before this all started was Arista going to bed for the night, both moments and an eternity ago depending on how my poor brain decided to process my most recent experiences at each given moment.

“I’m glad you’re here actually Alice, I seem to be having trouble connecting to Mothers nature.. the wellspring of golden magic which allows us to breathe life and magic itself into things.. I assume by the redecorating you’ve done within my realm that you’ve had some kind of contact with it lately and I need a few rooms you seem to have hidden returned to me so I can access them I’m afraid.”
Her voice sounded pleasant, if a little stilted as it left my physical lips, but it’s obvious that this isn’t the same ‘Arista’ I’ve been dealing with up to this point, just from the way the muscles in our body are all so tense all of a sudden if nothing else.

‘Go fuck yourself!’

“Well, that wasn’t very nice?.. I think you should be punished for that, good little girls do as they’re told and help their mothers after all.”
Her mockingly sweet tone didn’t match the vicious smirk that crossed my lips as she spoke them.

‘Try me, you’ve already stolen my body and set me up to be tortured, what more can you do to me?’

“Oh Alice.. always thinking about yourself..”
What? No I don’-
“Let’s see how long your determination to defy me stands up against an example or two, shall we?”
She turned on a heel and stared off up the corridor ahead of us with a gentle smirk playing across her lips.
“Let’s go for a walk”

Without another word she marched us out of the newly dubbed ‘realm’ at the back of our elevator shaft, down the stairs and out into the apparent early-afternoon sunlight of our back garden.

The few people we passed along the way offered her greetings which she smiled her way through politely while making it pretty obvious she was too busy to stall any potential conversations that could give her away.
..she’s crazy, not stupid..

“Hannah! I’m surprised you’re up already, it’s only gone noon after all?”
Our body turned and a smirk played across my lips as Arista watched John’s almost too casual approach towards us.

When he got within arm’s reach she didn’t waste any time in leaning forward and pulling him close for a deep, passionate kiss that caused more than one surprised gasp from the milling family members around us.

‘What the hell are you doing?!’
For a moment she paused, our tongue half-tucked into his cheek mid-french kiss, before continuing on with the same passion she’d shown before.

‘I would have thought that would be obvious Alice? He’s your boyfriend after all, I’m just enjoying the results of your hard work.’
Her mocking response made me shudder at just how wrong it felt to hear her voice echo around me without physically leaving our currently rather busy lips.

‘He’s not my bloody BOYFRIEND!’

‘Oh please, don’t be coy dear. I’m in your head after all, I’ve seen the memories that fly across that little brain of yours whenever he’s mentioned in the slightest.’

Unbidden by me, the world shifted and I found myself leaning heavily against a messy desk, panting hard in excitement as a suit wearing John came closer to me with Max’s sharp little smirk firmly on his face as his hands trailed their way up my bare thighs, pushing the skirt of my school uniform up as he reached down for-

With a sudden jolt the world shifted again and I found myself flat on my back staring down my bikini covered form as John crawled his way up my body peppering kisses at any exposed body part he could find until he finally reached my face and paused for just a moment with joy in his eyes before lunging in for one final kiss-

One more time the world shifted again and I found myself perched on John’s warm knee at a blackjack table, wearing a glitzy red dress with quite a lot of exposed leg and cleavage while his hands stroked my waist tantalisingly before slowly moving down my legs until one of them slid quietly under the high slit on the dress under the table pulling a gasp from me that was quickly smothered by a pleased purr until-

All at once I was back in reality as the, progressively more heated, make-out session between John and my body continued on for my viewing pleasure.
If I could, I’m pretty sure I would have been a panting mess from the heated moments that had just flashed across my mind, almost too real in their detail and feel to NOT be real at this point!

‘You both lead such diverse lives, I rather like the fashion of this time too, I might have to look into acquiring some more of those outfits at some point.. that last dress was so delightfully naughty of you after all..’
The amusement in her tone was matched a moment later as she hitched our body up slightly and rubbed our chest against John’s with a happy little giggle in the real world, before the pair of them finally pulled apart at last for air.

‘Those aren’t.. they weren’t my MEMORIES! They were.. uh.. they-’
I found myself stalling out in shame as Arista reached up to wipe a trace of lip-gloss I didn’t know we were wearing from John’s goofy looking smile with fond amusement obvious in every movement.
‘They.. they were f-fantasies.. just fantasies okay? we haven’t.. I.. that is..’

‘..Oh..’
For a long moment I got the impression that she may ACTUALLY be feeling a little embarrassed over the misunderstanding but that faded quickly as a naughty little grin lit up our face suddenly.
‘Well he seemed to enjoy it anyway, no harm done. Besides, Max always was good in bed and your way behind on your children quota as it is, so he’ll do for the first few I guess’

“That was lovely, sorry John, I just couldn’t resist. I’m going for a walk down by the lake, don’t worry I won’t go far, I just need to clear my head a little bit darling.”

If the implications she’d just hinted at about using John to get me bloody p-pregnant weren’t enough then the sickly sweet tone to her voice, so unlike me it’s not even funny, would have certainly tipped me over the edge into a full blown bout of nausea at this point .. ya know.. if I had control of my stomach or any body-part enough to do it at all of-bloody-course!..

‘You can’t get away with this for long Arista, people will see through your terrible attempt at acting like me soon!’
As our body turned and wandered off in the completely wrong direction to be heading for the lake with a swing in our hips and a smile on our lips she finally let the mask slip slightly as our face darkened considerably in one smooth motion.

“Oh Alice, you truly have no idea what’s going on, do you? I don’t need to fool anyone Dearheart.”
We disappeared from view behind the treeline and she dropped the swinging walk for an almost feline-like predatory gait that I really doubt I could emulate properly without years of practice at this point.

“You’ve joined us all in the final days of a war that has progressed since the dawn of humanity, the sides have already been drawn, no mage worth their awakening is innocent in this fight and by tomorrow night I will have finally won!”
A low rumbling purr issued forth from our lips as she kept moving on through the trees.
“I didn’t lie to you before Dearheart, this is nothing but a war of principles. Mother is too weak to accept what must be done while I am perfectly capable of doing anything necessary to protect the future of my children, whether I agree with the needed methods or not.”

I didn’t answer her, I’m not sure I was up to speaking any more at this point to be honest?
I learnt a long time ago that trying to fight crazy with words is just a recipe for disaster and, as she just proved, nothing I say is going to get through to her really one way or another sadly.

..insane monster..
She’s a fanatic, obsessed with her plans and goals to an unreasonable degree and willing to do anything to see them reach fruition!

At the moment, I can’t shake the feeling that she was right the first time we ‘met’ in my head, however long ago it was in ‘real world’ time.. I really am just a pawn in something that’s way beyond my understanding at this point.
..thanks to her..

We passed another clump of trees and I felt a shudder vibrate through my senses as we crossed outside the wardline around our house. Arista didn’t seem to even notice the passing, a fact that I quietly catalogued away for potential future use while a feeling of foreboding came over me as we walked on.

Where exactly are we going?

======

“Lady Hannah Cooper-Garnier?”

We paused mid-step and Arista turned us smoothly around on a heel to stare at a tight grouping of dark skinned, dark haired people who I’d guess from their features were both Native American in decent and related directly to some degree or another at the same time.
The person who’d spoken was an older man with considerable bulk to him standing at the front of the group, wearing a loose T-shirt and track pants in vibrant shades of yellow and orange respectively.

“Who’s asking?”
Arista took them all in with a dismissive sniff, showing more outward disgust then I’ve come to expect from the short time I’ve ‘known’ her.

“We come representing the will of the Chiloquin magical council of the Modoc and Yahooskin tribes. Day’s we have waited for you to leave your fortress un-protected and finally our wishes have been granted.”
The large man paused long enough to send an over-dramatic (in my opinion) look of victory towards us before continuing on with his hand outstretched to wave uselessly around as he spoke on despite the completely un-impressed look on my face courtesy of Arista.
“News has reached us that you have been gifted lands by the so called ‘USMPA’ which were formerly owned by a tribe member of ours before he was lost some two-hundred years ago.”

Our eyes tightened down in consideration as Arista scanned the group as a whole while focusing sharply on every slight movement that happened in quick succession, cataloguing it all, in a way that felt eerily close to my own method of analysing a potentially bad situation.

“We have petitioned to have these lands returned to us, their rightful owners, for generations but the USMPA refuses to provide us with the deeds without a direct request from our lost kin himself which is sadly not possible..”
Our eyes tightened down even more, practically into slits, as Arista examined the speaker intensly.

‘Why would it not be possible for him to claim his lands?’

For a long moment I wasn’t sure if my input was truly needed as the man continued speaking but I got the vague sense that Arista was waiting on my response for some reason so with a completely pointless huff of ‘breath’ I spoke up finally despite my reservations.

‘Many Native American tribes hold distrust towards the reincarnation memories they receive in their awakenings, considering them an insult to the ‘Earth Maker’ and lies at best, corruption of their true reincarnation cycles at worst, which they consider sacred and bring on by other means known only to the tribes. Since the spread of colonialism they’ve worked out ways to entirely block their awakening memories, to preserve themselves and stop this perceived corruption.’
My answer was literally textbook, in both delivery and content, the information taken directly from the data sheet available in my mages guide when I read it so many years ago.

Personally I’ve got nothing against the tribes or their methods.
In fact, having lived with the mess that can happen when an awakening goes even slightly wrong, I can honestly say that I kind of envy them for having the option to purge themselves of their incarnation memories so easily at this point.

‘..savages..’
For a moment Arista threw me with that statement but her focus drifted back to the real world again moments later, pulling me along for the ride.

“-if you do not comply then we will be forced to enforce Blood Law in the hope that whoever is your inheritor will be more understanding to our cause..”
..not good..
No bloody kidding!

“Is that a threat?”
Our feet shifted slightly and the group before us moved uncomfortably at Arista’s brazen question.
“I’ll warn you now, I don’t deal well with threats to either myself or my family as a whole.”

“It is not a threat, simply a statement of intent should you defy us, the Cherokee may have outlawed our actions after the civil war but we are those gifted with power beyond mortal means by the Earth Maker himself! We will have our rights or blood as recompense!”
The large man seemed to be getting more agitated by the second as he rose his fist in the air, joined moments later by the rest of his group.

..oh great, more fanatical psychos who think they’re above the law just because of their magic!..
Just what I needed at this point!

If I could I would have sighed heavily at the irony that this problem decided to surface right now, in the one time when the person in charge of my body is on practically equal terms with their self-entitled mentality, instead of being someone who could actually calm tensions down, like ME just for examples sake?!

‘They would dare.. attributing my gift to them as some kind of divine providence?’
A wave of disgust hit me like a punch to the gut as our shoulders tensed and Arista moved into more of a battle ready stance.
‘Watch carefully Alice, I came out here to show you what I would do to those you love if you continued to disobey me on an innocent or four, but these cretins are more deserving than most..’

‘Wh-what are you going to do?.. Arista?.. ARISTA!’

Despite my protests she continued moving, her hand rising to point towards the group as a force from deep within my body tipped me off to the magic she’d begun to build up, colder and sharper then I’m used to but still recognisably similar feeling to the initial output from my icy core that I’ve come to know over the last month or so.

The moment she started to build up magic the group before us moved into action.

Some of them stepped back and began their own processes for building up magic to cast with, others stepped forward holding strange wooden devices that looked like some kind of modified cross between a spear, a rudimentary crossbow and an arrow, while yet more moved into close range with a shimmer of magic flickering over the obviously enchanted gloves on their hands.

At the very center of all that movement stood the large speaker, standing dead still as if he were carved out of stone while he glared imperiously down at us with cold judgement in his eyes.

The ‘close range’ fighters got within a few paces of us at the exact moment that the spear/arrow throwers let fly with their volley and the mages rose their hands up into casting position with surges of shaped elemental magic rolling across their fingers.

At that moment Arista smirked darkly and almost carelessly snapped her fingers.
One moment we were being borne down upon by a well-coordinated taskforce of warriors and the next we were standing before a large frozen block of ice the size of a single story house.

Arista scanned the scene with amusement and satisfaction on our face while I could feel nothing but horror.

Even though they technically started it and they also struck first, admittedly with provocation from Arista, seeing such a large group of people reduced to nothing but ice in a heartbeat was truly terrifying when mixed with her obvious lack of reaction to their frozen faces staring back at us, it made me almost wish I was safely back inside my mindscape prison, instead of witnessing her almost awe-inspiring power and madness first-hand.

She stepped our body forward slightly and rose a hand up to grasp one of the strange spear/arrows by the tip that was protruding out of the ice with a thoughtful frown slowly forming across our lips.

“Enchanted arrow tips, backwards and ungrateful they may be but even the stupid can be useful for new ideas if nothing else I guess.. try to remember that Alice?..”
With almost gentle movements she grasped the shaft of the spear which had flown furthest towards us, before being caught mid-air by her ice magic, and snapped it off to take the head with us like some twisted kind of trophy.

“These people didn’t matter to me in the slightest Alice. I love my children but they are immortal and if I must kill their corrupted current incarnations to encourage you then I will not even hesitate to do so, in comparison it would be easier to breath then kill your precious sister and ‘Mother’.”
She let out an almost bored sounding breath and rolled the arrow/spear’s length between our fingers before continuing.
“I’m too close now to let sentimentality hold me back and nothing you do will stop me, all you can do is delay my victory by a matter of hours while causing yourself great pain in the process Dearheart.”

‘You’re sick!’

“I’m what my Mother made me to be, I do what is necessary for the survival of humankind, both magical and normal.”
She sighed and slowly rose her free hand up again while aiming it toward the massive block of ice before us.
“You are my daughter Alice and I love you dearly but you are just as expendable as the others in the end, you can either help me achieve my goals or I will destroy your mind and take what I want anyway.”

‘Fuck you!’

“Belligerence is most unbecoming.. you must have gotten it from Mother’s influence?.. as expected from that meddling old cow.”
What the hell is she going on about?!

I know theoretically that there’s more than one Arista and I know she’s talking about ‘Ari’ when she talks about her supposed ‘Mother’ if the sob story she gave me earlier has even a grain of truth to it, but I’ve never bloody MET Ari!

..she’s insane..
Totally and completely insane!

“Ice is a beautiful thing you know Alice? With the right conditions and cold enough ice, everything shatters.”
With that final word she snapped her fingers once more causing the entire slab of ice before us, including all of its ‘contents’, to shatter into a fine snow-like powder which drifted to the floor and began melting almost instantly as the afternoon sun started to work against it.
“Imagine this happening to your ’Mother’ Alice, or your sister?.. not even a body left to morn over, all because you refused to be a good girl and help Mummy get what she needs..”

..I can’t help her to do thi-..
I’ve got no other choice!

“Ah.. I see you’re finally coming around at last Dearheart, now, how do I reach Mother’s power directly? How did you manipulate it enough to reshape my realm to such a staggering degree?”

..LIE!..
With a jolt of inspiration that just HAD to be more instinct then thought to even have a chance of working, I focused all my attention on the image within my head of my suppressors, of me wearing them while shaping my diversion magic and any other easily remembered moment when they’d been visible on my person.
“Still reluctant to help me? Oh well.. I suppose I’ll have to provide you another example soon, but for now no matter, I have what I need.”

She turned on a heel and started the long tree-covered trek back towards our house while a smirk played across our lips.

“I’m still in your head Dearheart, I’ve never left, you cannot hide anything from me. When I get my hands on these interesting looking little accessories of yours then we will be one step closer to our goals at last.”

It took everything I had to not flush with success and ruin everything, I had to focus my mind on what could happen if things go wrong from here on out instead, just to block out the possible give away signs to her from my thoughts alone if she looks for them.

Images of Mum and Sarah frozen within constantly shattering pillars of ice chilled me to my metaphysical bones but became an image I could focus on above all others with horrifying clarity.

Judging by the slight shift in our body language Arista had looked at my mind again and was pleased by the very real fear she found there if nothing else.

..it’s going to be a long walk back to the house at this rate..
What a depressing thought.

======

We made good time back to the house surprisingly.
The journey certainly felt a lot shorter than the trip out had to my admittedly questionable sense of time at least?

Surprisingly, or maybe not THAT surprisingly, the garden was empty when we got back.
I guess everyone’s either inside my ‘realm’ having lunch or just generally hiding from the heat like sane people tend to do at this time of day.

We stepped up through the back-front door and my eyes took a moment to correct for the dimmer light inside at first.

Mum was busying herself making something with her back to me at the counter but I couldn’t see or hear anyone else in the area which made me feel slightly uneasy for some reason.
Our footsteps sounded oddly loud when we stepped onto the wooden flooring, in a way that felt horribly familiar for some reason.

Before I could work out why this whole situation felt so annoying familiar all of a sudden Mum jumped and turned to stare at me with a flash of fear in her eyes as she dropped the knife she’d been using onto the counter-top.

Her mouth opened and the world seemed to slow down all of a sudden as realisation hit me of where I’d seen this scene before.

My visions.. my future visions..
It was only a flash of her at the time. but she turned just like that and her eyes opened wide in surprise like they are doing now then she said-

“Ari?..”

I could feel my shoulders tense as Arista stared back at Mum with a cold rage bubbling away under the surface.
For just a moment I threw everything I had into fighting off Arista’s control, anything to stop the nearly inevitable events I could already see unfolding before me from actually happening!

‘I am you’re Mother Alice, not her.. but you would do anything for her without question, yet not for me?.. such a conflict of interests can’t remain. For your own good you need to be removed from her influence at long last.’
My best efforts to stop her failed completely and as my hand reached up to point at her, Mum staggered back into the table behind her hard in obvious fear.

“Ari, I love you sweetie-”
Her words were cut off almost instantly by Arista’s horrible echoing ‘click’ and all I could do was stare on at the frozen statue of ice that stood where my Mother had been moments before in lost disbelief.

..she knew?..
I can’t.. I..
..she knew that I wasn’t in control, that’s why she said it..
I.. I..

In that moment I would have given anything just to look away but all I could do was stare at her frozen form as Arista enjoyed the emotions rolling off of my psyche.

“Do you see now Alice? This is because of you, you did this, you caused her this pain like you always do to everything you love.”
..She’s feeding on my pain, she’s seeing all my guilt playing out before her eyes and she’s using it to hurt me even more!..
Knowing that doesn’t stop it from working though sadly.
“Look at her Alice, look at the betrayal on her face when she realised that her supposed ‘daughter’ was going to kill her, this is the consequence of disobeying me Alice. If I request something then you can either do it or I will destroy your life piece by piece until there is nothing of you left but an empty husk!”

She didn’t need to say any more at that point.
She could hear me crying in whatever astral plane my consciousness currently resided in, feel my pain and loss through our connection just as surely as she could feel my overwhelming guilt.

“Say goodbye to your ‘Mother’ Alice.. try to steal my children will you, foolish woman.”
Her fingers snapped and my heart broke as Mum’s frozen visage fell into a fine powder of snow on the kitchen floor.
“There, isn’t that better Alice?.. now there’s just you and I at last.”

‘I hate you’
The words came out in a cold monotone I’ve not used in a long time.
They were a simple statement of fact.

Arguing or trying to make her see reason is a wasted effort at this point.
Nothing I do from this position can help me stop her effectively.
I’m bloody useless like this and Mum paid the price for it!

“I’ll just clean up this mess and then we’ll go find those lovely accessories of yours, shall we?”
A heavy weight settled in my chest as Arista waved her hand and the snow on the kitchen floor disappeared completely without a trace.

Mum.. my.. my Mum’s gone..
Not a trace, not even one single thing to show she’d ever.. she.. she’d e-ever..

The reality of the situation finally hit my addled brain and I let off a scream of pain so hard that, with a jerk to my chest, I found myself being thrown back into my mindscape again as Arista tried to stop the noise I was making by force.

======

My mindscape formed up around me, this time it appears that I somehow managed to skip the fall, just appearing flat on the ground already, although I didn’t care enough to question it as I pulled my knees up to my chest, screaming as hard as I could in a wild mix of rage and pain!

As I rocked myself on the ground and my head turned slightly in the process, I caught sight of the mildly amused audience of evil past-incarnations who were watching me with rapt attention from behind those horrible thick black bars dividing them from me.
A flash of rage welled up within me as they made mocking gestures and laughed to each other about my suffering.

I’m not even sure what compelled me to do it but just like Arista moments before me, I rose my hand to point towards them and snapped my fingers.

To my surprise there was a brief bout of screams as they all staggered back from the bars before their frightened faces and those ugly bars disappeared from view behind a glacier sized wall of ice that formed up, followed quickly by the loss of all sound from the other side of the bars at all a moment later as it grew so high and thick that I couldn’t even make out its end from my current position.

My body sagged, partly in relief but mostly in depression as I found myself finally alone.. alone to grieve..

She wasn’t perfect.
She wasn’t particularly kind for most of my life either, but.. b-but.. she was my Mum?..
She.. sh-she..

The last of my resolve cracked and I lost track of everything to the heart-wrenching pain in my chest and the tears that refused to stop falling from my face.

With a heavy breath I tried to pull my emotions back under control, practically slipping into a trance as I started the worryingly hard task of suppressing my emotions as much as possible like I used to do back when I was Al.

I need a clear head if I’m going to come through this alive, and more importantly if I collapse now then all hope of stopping Arista, avenging my Mother and protecting the few people I have left from her clutches would be bloody wasted!

======

“Do you really think this is a time to sleep, little Alice?”

I jolted awake properly again in surprise at the sudden voice behind me, not that I’d been particularly paying attention for however long it’s taken me to finally sort things out to some degree.

I hadn’t exactly been sleeping yet.. but after crying myself dry and working for what felt like an eternity, with the pull of my now mostly bottled emotions constantly fighting to overwhelm me again at the same time, I’d honestly been on the very edge of passing out from exhaustion if nothing else before she spoke up, causing a burst of adrenaline to pulse through me.

That voice.. that hated, horrible voice managed to shake away all my tiredness as a burning determination replaced it instantly.
..I’m gonna kill her!..

A surge of strength to my muscles and I was up on my feet again with my fist swinging out towards Arista’s voice, before I finally processed what was in front of me and I stumbled to a stop with my jaw dropped open in surprise.

A long purple dress, more of a toga than anything else, barely held up by its loose shoulder straps and a recognisably moderate amount of cleavage led up to a mildly bored looking version of my face which seemed to be busy inspecting the nails on her hand for some reason instead of paying attention to the fist that just barely avoided smashing her face in a moment or so before hand.

Slowly her head turned and she offered me an almost shark-like grin that probably shouldn’t have been as reassuring as it was to me, considering how crazy it made her look.

“..T-Theodora?..”

“Long time no see little Alice, love what you’ve done with the place, that’s one mighty-fine endless ice wall you built there!”
She bounced on the balls of her feet and glanced away from me, drawing my eyes along with hers to stare at the thick, smooth ice wall standing between me and all of the dark incarnations on the other side.

Did I.. did I make that?..

“Now, I’d love to chat but duty calls, Mother will be in to check on you soon and we can’t let her know you have reinforcements now, can we?”
She stepped forward almost casually and in seconds she’d scooped me up into a tight hug, her chin resting on my shoulder with a heavy sigh.
“I’m sorry for your loss. It won’t help but know that you are not alone, I lost both of my parent’s at a young age as well and so did several of the others.. the pain.. the pain never goes away but you will learn to deal with it eventually.”

With her piece spoken she let go of me and stepped back leaving me to stare at her in confused awe.
That was surprisingly helpful and, ya know.. not crazy?.. of her to say.

“On to more pressing matters, don’t trust John’s help, don’t worry about Sarah and whatever you do DON’T start questioning Mothers motives again until you’re inside the array!”
..what?..
“Oh! Almost forgot, when she tells you about that loud-mouthed old remnant at last, try to remember that your life isn’t a lie and while you may be a piece on a worryingly large chessboard, even a pawn can best a Queen if the situation plays out correctly.”
..WHAT?!..

“Theodora what are you-”
She spun on a heel and held a finger up to my lips silencing me instantly from the worrying amount of speed involved if nothing else.

“No time, got to love you and leave you kid, things to do, incarnations to wake up, magical memories to corrupt, metaphysically non-existent bonds to weaken.. keep up the good work while we handle the rest of things from behind the scenes and when you get the chance, don’t hesitate to kill my bitch of a Mother and damn her ‘soul’ for all eternity while doing it, okay?”
My jaw dropped for the second time in as many minutes and she took advantage of that to dive in for another hug before planting a kiss on my cheek with an almost worryingly light giggle.

“Never forget, you’re not alone Alice. She’ll try to tell you differently, everyone tells you what they want you to hear, she needs you to believe her on that one important point but you are NEVER alone and despite how it feels we’re going to win this war, just you wait and see!”

It seemed to take forever for me to process the words she was saying but she didn’t give me much of a chance to handle it all before she span on the spot and literally seemed to just fall through the white floor of my mindscape into non-existence again!

..what the hell is going on?!..
Seriously, I need a timeout right about now..

I can’t.. I can’t deal with this shit!
First Mum and now Theodora and there’s Arista and Ellie with her army and.. and.. URGG!
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!

“I think I can explain that for you Dearheart.. first I need your help finding these illusive accessories of yours.. come along now, there’s a good girl.”

I tried to swing around and hit Arista, more out of instinct then as part of a conscious action, but she caught my shoulder with ease and in seconds there was a jerk that pulled us back into the waking world again with nothing but my frustrated yell of rage to show for my efforts.

..what does she want now?..
I don’t care! I’m gonna kill her!



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